Chaitanya and His Companions
BY: SUN STAFF
A Sankirtan Scene
After a painting in lacquer on wooden board meant to be a book cover,
obtained from Birbhum, early 17th Century.
Feb 19, 2015 CANADA (SUN) In late 2012 we presented a 57-part Sun series entitled "Chaitanya And His Age", from the book written by Dinesh Chandra Sen, (Calcutta, 1922). Another of Sen's books was referenced many times throughout Chaitanya And His Age, and that was Chaitanya and His Companions, in which the author provides further historical and biographical details on the Lord's lila pastimes and associates. Today, we begin a serial presentation of the latter book.
CHAITANYA AND HIS COMPANIONS
As we reminded the reader throughout our presentation of Chaitanya And His Age, Sen's manuscripts are presented to Sun readers for their historical interest. Not only are there certain departures from Gaudiya siddhanta found in the texts, but the author's representation of historical events are also not absolutely accurate. The entire contents of these manuscripts should be taken as Truth and fact only insofar as they are corroborated by authorized sastra and the purports of our Sampradaya Acaryas.
In the author's Introduction below, the reader will hear Sen's western leanings and his religious, and Christian-influenced sentiments. Although not absolute, Chaitanya And His Companions still provides a great deal of interesting information, some of which will be found helpful to those researching and studying Lord Chaitanya's pastimes. For that reason, we publish it here.
Chaitanya And His Age is comprised of the text of a series of lectures presented by Dinesh Chandra Sen to the University of Calcutta while he was the Ramtanu Latiiri Research Fellow, from 1913-14. There are two extraordinary color plate illustrations in the book, including the one above and another depicting the audience Sri Chaitanya gave to King Prataprudra (to be shown later). The original paintings date from the late 16th and early 17th Centuries.
By Rai Sahib Dinesh Chandra Sen
B.A., Fellow and Head Examiner, Calcutta University, Associate Member of Asiatic Socety of Bengal, Author of 'History of Bengali Language and Literature- Typical Selections from Bengali Literature', 'Banga Bhasa-0- Sahitya', 'Vaisnava Literature of Mediaeval Bengal', and other works. Published by the UNIVERSITY OF CALCUTTA 1917
In the vast literature of the Vaisnavas, a stress is laid on Prema or spiritual love. It is not that romantic sentiment which a man feels for a woman, nor that a mother feels for her child, though for the purpose of expressing it in literature, it becomes inevitable to adopt the phraseology of human passion. The Chaitanya Charitamrta says that an earthly passion is 'Kama' and not 'Prema.' The former limits the vision to a narrow place, nay darkens it ; it does not allow a person to see beyond his self, while the latter (Prema) is like the glorious sun illuminating the truths of the Universe. Chaitanya himself said "the romance of sexual love, often confounded with Prema, is not true love. It is when sexual feeling is totally extinct that true love will grow in the soul."
Prema or spiritual love may grow from earthly passions even in their debased form, as it did in the case of Bilvamangala Thakur. [Footnoted sloka from Cc Adi, Kadacha by Govinda Dasa]. But in its full blown aspects, it presents an unearthly beauty, as the lily does, growing from the filthy underground soil.
What then is this Prema of the Vaisnavas? The image of Krsna is worshipped by them. Whether it be a Christ or a Krsna or some other defied Man, no matter, but the image in the temple has some power to attract the soul and lead it to the realization of the highest spiritual joy. When the bells of the Evening Service are rung, the incense is burnt and five lights are waved before the image, the soul endowed with fine susceptibilities often drinks deep joy from an inward source, the nature of which cannot be well defined. To a lover and poet, the image appears not as a gross thing but as something immaterial, a fount of joy and beauty for ever.
Such joys have been tasted by the mystics all over the world. The experiences of St. Theresa, St. John of Cross, Suso, Catherine of Siena, St. Juan and other mystics of Europe offer points of close affinity to those of Srnivasa, Narottama, Syamananda and other Vaisnavas of Bengal. What matter, whether it be a Christ or Krsna? The spiritual experience, the ecstasies of joy, the exalted emotions and the pain of separation are the same in each case.
To Chaitanya the image of his Krsna flashed from all directions in whatever he saw around him. He says:
"Everywhere is the image of Krsna presented to the eye. Only those who have attained a clear vision are privileged to see the glorious sight."
Beyond the phenomena of the world, there is a higher plane, the paradise of the mystics. There a hundred lyres sound the melodious music of a strange land, there a hundred flowers of undecayed blossom send forth their sweet fragrance, and there Beauty herself opens her doors and enters the soul of Man overwhelming it with tender emotions and ecstasies.
Read the portion of Chaitanya Charitamrta where Chaitanya at the sight of the temple of Jagannatha Avept aloud and uttered 'Jag' 'Jag' — ' Ja,' half broken words, in his attempts to utter 'Jagannatha,' and faltering in his speech fell senseless on the ground in the height of his emotional felicity. Recovering, he recited before Svarupa Damodara a sloka of Kavya Prakasa, which may be thus freely translated.
"I remember the day when we loved each other on the banks of the Reva. To-day the sweet breeze blows. The Malati blooms around and the Kadamva flower, drenched with dew, sends its fragrance, and you my beloved, are present before me here, and so am I before you, the same that I ever was. But yet does my heart long for a union with you in the shades of the cane-bowers on the banks of the Reva."
[FN: Sloka from Kadacha by Govinda Dasa]
This language of earthly passion has borne a spiritual interpretation. The palace of a powerful Raja was near the temple of Puri. Jagannatha was worshipped with great array and pomp. God-vision was beheld by Chaitanya there though in the midst of earthly splendour; but his soul yearned for it in the sweet retirement of the woodland bowers of Vrndavana.
This vision kept him in a highly strung state of emotional joy during his life, and it proved to be the greatest source of attraction to those who beheld it in him. What truth there is in this mystic vision— whether it is the result of a frenzied brain or the disease 'calipathy', the name with which Western rationalism has branded it, is a problem which is not for me here to solve. The psychologists will find out the truth on this point. But if it be a disease, how could it purify hundreds of lives? Those who were wicked, became good, — the cruel hearts became tender, — the uncharitable hands learnt to distribute charity, and the false became true under its spell. Could a disease ever do that? A maniac and a diseased brain are despised everywhere. Even the dogs of the streets bark at them. But the mystics are worshipped and their influence works wonders in the moral world.
[FN: The Kavya Prakasa, Quoted by Cc Madhya 13th Chapter]
The vision which the Indian mystics saw was not a matter of chance-acquisition to them. The Vaisnavas have laid down the laws to be observed for the attainment of the plane from which these visions may be beheld, in a comprehensive manner. The moral development should be first of all perfect in one. The next stage is to train the soul to humility and reverence,
"One should be humbler than a straw, more meek and patient than a tree, and without seeking honour for one's ownself freely give it to others and in humble spirit sing the praises of Krsna."
The psalm XXII says "But I am a worm and not a man — a reproach of man and despised of the people."
This Christian humility is similar to that enjoined in the Vaisnava scriptures.
The tree is the great emblem of religious meekness and sacrifice in the eyes of the Vaisnavas. Chaitanya Charitamrta details some of its features which should be the guide of all seekers of the mystic light.
"The tree does not want a drop of water from anyone though it dries up. It does not speak of the wrongs it suffers, but gives shelter even to one who cuts it with his axe. It exposes itself to sun and rain only to give fruits and flowers to others."
Is not Christ the Tree thus spoken of in Chaitanya Charitamrta? and here also the Vaisnava ideal has a parallel in Christianity. The tree it might be further said, nourishes itself by the sweet juice it draws from the mother earth, all unseen by others. This is the spring and fountain of its all-sacrificing love. If one nourishes his soul secretly with God's love, like the tree will it give its highest gift to humanity without complaining against the wrongs it may suffer. Even the enemies will have nothing but love from such a soul. When this all-sacrificing love and meekness have been developed in the soul, it will be privileged to enter the mystic plane from which it will see sights of imperishable beauty and hear the sound of that music which never dies away.
My lectures in connection with Ramtanu Laliiri Research Fellowship and as a University Reader will unfold the history of the mystics of Bengal derived mainly from the sources of old Bengali literature. I have also tried to draw parallels from the history of Western mystics in several places. As the whole of the past Bengali Literature is permeated by a religious element, I may not, I venture to presume, be blamed, while exploring this literature, for laying stress on its predominant ideas, which are not confined merely to those of a literary nature.
These lectures were delivered by me to the University of Calcutta as Ramtanu Lahiri Research Fellow in the History of Bengali Language and Literature for 1913-1914. The Ramtanu Lahiri Fellowship was created by the University out of the funds supplied by Late Babu Sarat Kumar Lahiri to commemorate his illustrious father's name which the Fellowship bears. Babu Ramtanu Lahiri's name is revered throughout Bengal for his great piety and love of letters. It was, therefore, a fitting tribute to his memory to associate his name with the cause of research in the field of Bengali Literature. I only fear lest I prove unworthy of my task, associated, as it is, with such a dear and revered name.
In conclusion, 1 must thankfully acknowledge my indebtedness to Mr. William Rothenstein who kindly revised the manuscript of these Lectures two years ago. Mr. A. C. Ghatak, Superintendent of the University Press, kindly read some of the proofs for me, hut as considerable alterations and additions had to be made subsequently and Mr. Ghatak could not read all the proofs, there have been many printing mistakes in the book and I am sorry they escaped me as I am not a good proof-reader myself.
DINESH CHANDRA SEN
Behala, (Near Calcutta) May I8th, 1917
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